Four of the six Republicans running to represent Iowa House District 91 answered questions on key political issues from a small crowd Thursday.
District 91 encompasses parts of Iowa and Johnson counties.
Brad Sherman, Matt McAreavy, Skylar Limkemann and Devon Hodgeman participated in a League of Women Voters of Johnson County forum at Clear Creek Amana Middle School, making their pitch on why they should be the one to represent this newly created district. Education, the use of eminent domain for a carbon capture pipeline and culture wars were some of the main issues discussed.
The forum was moderated by LWV member Polly Horton. The LWV is a nonpartisan organization and regularly holds these forums before elections.
Horton told the crowd that candidate Adam Grier was unable to make it to the event while John George did not show up despite his name remaining on a placard at the table.
Republican voters will pick the winner of this race in the June 7 primary election. That candidate will go on to run against Democrat Elle Wyant in the Nov. 8 general election. Wyant is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
More:Iowa US Senate candidates visit Johnson County ahead of June 7 primary
Candidates ask for more restrictions on curriculum in schools
Education and what is taught in schools to children quickly became one of the main topics of the night as candidates were asked by audience members about the teaching of critical race theory and gender and sexual orientation in schools. Most of the candidates argued against teaching both, with some making transphobic remarks in addition to their answers.
Critical race theory is a decades-old legal theory that examines how slavery’s legacy continues to influence American society.
Hodgeman answered first about critical race theory, saying that the Iowa legislation passed banning “divisive concepts” in schools was too simple. He said giving parents more control over education, including adding surveillance cameras in classrooms, could be an option to prevent this from being taught.
“We should have cameras in every classroom,” he said.
Hodgeman said schools do not need to teach about sexual orientation, suggesting any “graphic” sexual education should be barred from schools.
Hodgeman, who lives in Oxford, said he sat in on a closed-door meeting that Gov. Kim Reynolds and US Rep. Ashley Hinson had with members of the Linn-Marr School District and said he thinks what is going on in schools in regards to teaching about gender and sexuality is “grotesque.”
Limkemann said the solution starts with electing conservatives to school boards, which he said will make a difference at the local level. He said schools in Iowa are trying to “indoctrinate” children with “CRT, wokeness, anti-law enforcement mentality.”
“We have parents that don’t know what is going on in schools because schools aren’t communicating with them,” he said.
Limkemann, a Tiffin City council member, said he thinks it is inappropriate for schools to teach about gender and sexuality. He claimed some schools are telling students what their sexual orientation and gender are.
“I don’t think we should be teaching kids that they get to pick one day that they are a boy, girl or something else,” he said.
McAreavy took a different stance, arguing critical race theory is not as bad as people are making it out to be and is not being taught in schools in Iowa. He said he doesn’t support the theory and said CCA did a review and found teachers are not trying to push this concept.
“There are aspects of CRT that are bleeding into the books that schools are buying. There are radical teachers out there that, if left alone, would teach this,” he said. “But I don’t think we need to overreact and start dictating to the good people that are trying to teach our kids that they are not doing their job and need to do it better.”
McAreavy said he doesn’t think kids should be taught about gender and sexual orientation, but said he does support schools addressing bullying by teaching children that they are going to meet people who are different than them. He walked a fine line between advocating against bullying of LGBTQ children, which is often a result of bigotry and ignorance, and actually teaching children to understand sexuality and gender.
“You don’t have to accept their lifestyle, but I do think you need to respect them enough to let them be and not bully them,” he said. “I think those children need to be protected, but we have no businesses teaching our children what the different lifestyles are.”
Sherman said that critical race theory promotes racism while pretending to be against racism. He said racism is an evil thing and that Black lives matter and all lives matter, a common right-wing rebuttal to the movement calling for an end to police brutality.
“There is no need to teach sexual orientation in school,” he said.
Sherman claimed that socialism and Marxism in the 1950s were to blame for “promiscuity and all kinds of sexual deviancy.”
“This didn’t happen by accident. These things were being taught by Marxist professors who have gotten involved in our universities,” he said.
When asked about workforce issues, McAreavy, a Clear Creek Amana School Board member, and Hodgeman, the owner of a wood-working business in Oxford, argued that there is a lack of foresight in Iowa’s education system about teaching children how to work in Iowa’s economy. They argued in favor of blue-collar jobs.
“We have a different economy than California does. Too many times … we allow kids to get a degree in something that you’re not going to find in Iowa right now,” McAreavy said.
Hodgeman and McAreavy suggested more early childhood education that pushes children toward jobs that don’t require a college degree. McAreavy also said giving teachers better salaries would help Iowa attract more people to open positions.
Candidates push culture war issues and conspiracies
The left-leaning politics of Iowa City and Johnson County often became a boogeyman for Limkemann and some of the other candidates, who arguing that, if elected, they would find a way to limit the power of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.
Limkemann and Sherman quickly pivoted on multiple answers to blaming the country’s woes on Democrats and socialism, a beat that Hodgeman later picked up on.
“I think people need the harsh reality one of these days and realize if they don’t work, they don’t eat. That’s a tough love kind of thing, but it’s the best thing for them in the long run,” Sherman said about the crisis workforce.
Sherman blamed socialism for the Black Lives Matter movement and called the organizers of the movement “trained Marxists.”
“They’re using Marxist strategies to divide and conquer our nation and bring division and create group against group,” he said.
Sherman also pushed allegations that there was a “gross voter fraud system” in the 2020 election, a claim that has been debunked several times. Sherman called for “paper ballots” and voting machines that aren’t connected to the internet, both of which Iowa and most states already use in elections.
“If we don’t restore trust in our voting system, we’re in trouble as a country,” he said.
Hodgeman said he was in agreement with Sherman.
Limkemann said he doesn’t think Iowa has many problems with its elections, but called for better voter education. He did claim Democrats are buying votes and giving undocumented immigrants voting power.
Conspiracy theories and disinformation have been a regular presence in the race from the start.
George, of Marengo, wore a Q-Anon T-shirt to file his candidacy; Hodgeman pushed a debunked theory that schools have litter boxes in classrooms for children identifying as animals; and Sherman’s teachings as a pastor at his church, Solid Rock Christian Center, make several inaccurate claims about the structure of American government, socialism and religion’s role in government.
Hodgeman closed by arguing socialism taking over the country isn’t an impending threat, but is already occurring in society and advocated for acting aggressively to combat this.
“We are becoming a socialist country now,” he said.
Each candidate spoke against letting the government mandate vaccinations both for COVID-19 and other diseases that are required by many employers and schools.
McAreavy was the only candidate to speak in favor of other vaccinations, asking the audience to consider getting educated about vaccines other than those for COVID-19, which he said have been tested countless times and have been around for years.
“That’s my opinion. I’m not going to force my opinion on other people,” he said.
Limkemann was the only candidate to mention the former president by name and said in his closing statement that he misses Donald Trump. He was also the only candidate to bring up abortion, saying he is an anti-abortion candidate despite saying earlier he thinks government should stay out of medical decisions.
Hodgeman, Limkemann, McAreavy and Sherman unite against carbon capture pipeline
The candidates found common ground arguing against the use of eminent domain by private developers to take land from landowners for use of carbon capture pipelines in Iowa.
Sherman said the use of eminent domain to create a pipeline is a big issue in Iowa County and said he is against it because the property will be used for private use. He also claimed that the carbon capture process is based in the “green movement, which is fueled by socialism.”
“This is a big deal and we need to stop this carbon capture pipeline,” he said. “One of these days the plants are going to rise up and say they don’t have any carbon dioxide to breathe.”
Hodgeman said he was in agreement with Sherman and is against both using eminent domain and the idea of carbon capture pipelines.
“I would actually spend as much time opposing it as the federal government spent opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline,” he said.
Limkemann said he has fundamental problems with eminent domain and thinks most people think the government shouldn’t try and take people’s land. He said this is a complicated issue, but Iowa has a problem and needs to ensure people’s land is not taken.
McAreavy echoed what the other candidates said and argued there needs to be more clarity on how eminent domain can be used, especially with it being used for the benefit of a private entity.
“This is an overreach of what eminent domain is,” he said.
Previous candidate forums showcased other contested primaries
This was the fifth and final LWV forum prior to the June 7 primary:
More information on the primary election, how to register to vote and how to vote early are available on the Johnson County Auditor’s website: https://johnsoncountyiowa.gov/auditor/elections.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen’s local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge